Published June 4, 2009
PASADENA, Calif. (BP) — Ralph Winter, a veteran missiologist who 35 years ago sparked an emphasis on unreached people groups worldwide, died at his home in Pasadena, Calif., May 20 after a struggle with cancer. He was 84.
In 2005, Time magazine listed Winter as one of the 25 most influential evangelicals in America, noting that in 1974 at the International Congress on World Evangelization in Lausanne, Switzerland, Winter revolutionized missionary work overseas by calling Christians to look beyond national borders and serve the world’s “unreached people.”
Time said Winter helped produce “a new generation of Christian message carriers, some native, ready to venture out to places with such ready-to-be-ministered flocks as Muslim converts to Christianity and African Christians with heretical beliefs.”
Jerry Rankin, president of the Southern Baptist International Mission Board, said few missiologists in this era have had an influence comparable to Winter’s.
“Through the World Mission Center, which he established in Pasadena, he has confronted the global missions community with challenges and accountability for our Great Commission task,” Rankin said in a statement to Baptist Press.
“He was one of the first to bring to our attention ‘hidden peoples,’ resulting in the impetus to not only evangelize and disciple the nations but every ethno-linguistic people group,” Rankin said. “He will be missed, but his legacy will live on in the efforts of every Christian who has a heart for global outreach.”
John Piper, pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, said nobody in the area of missions had a greater impact on him than Winter, and his vision of the advance of the gospel “was breathtaking.”
At the Lausanne Congress, Winter “reached up and pulled the unseen rope called ‘unreached peoples’ that rang a bell that reverberates to this day,” Piper wrote May 21 in a personal tribute to Winter, who was his professor at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena.
“This concept, and the subsequent emphasis on unreached peoples (as opposed to unreached ‘fields’) has been globally seismic in the transformation of missions,” Piper wrote.
An obituary in the Los Angeles Times May 24 said Winter, whose father was a prominent freeway designer, earned a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering at the California Institute of Technology before serving in the Navy during World War II. Then he earned a doctorate in linguistics, anthropology, and mathematical statistics at Cornell University.
Winter also received a master’s degree in English as a second language from Columbia University and was ordained a Presbyterian minister in 1956 while at Princeton Theological Seminary.
Soon he set out as a missionary to Guatemala, where he worked among the indigenous Maya people for a decade before becoming professor of missions at Fuller.
During his time in Guatemala, Winter became involved in a strategy which became the inspiration for a training movement.
“It was the idea of reaching out to assist the real local church leaders (for the first time including Indians),” Winter wrote in an autobiography on the website ralphwinter.org. “These local church leaders were laymen – most of the 200 churches were run by ordained elders. Those of us involved in this scheme reasoned that these elders could be taught and ordained as full-fledged ministers without relocating themselves and their families for years to the capital city to attend ‘seminary.’”
In 1976, Winter left the classroom to become a strategist for Christian outreach, the Times said, founding the interdenominational U.S. Center for World Mission on the former campus of Pasadena Nazarene College.
One year later, he founded William Carey International University, which served in conjunction with the mission center to raise awareness of unreached people groups and equip churches to reach them.
Winter’s first wife, Roberta, died in 2001. He is survived by his second wife Barbara, four daughters, 14 grandchildren, and one great-grandchild. A memorial service is scheduled for June 28 at Lake Avenue Congregational Church in Pasadena.
Piper said Winter was busy dictating during the few remaining days of his life.
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